(CNN) — Independent presidential candidate Cornel West and his running mate, Melina Abdullah, defended their pro-Palestinian views Thursday night in their first joint television interview since Abdullah joined West’s campaign this week.

In an interview with CNN’s Abby Phillip, the pair declined to call on Hamas to release hostages taken from Israel in exchange for a ceasefire, repeatedly refused to criticize Hamas for its actions in the war and opted not to condemn the group for the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel.

Abdullah, a board member for Black Lives Matter Grassroots, said she “absolutely” stands behind a statement her group put out two days after October 7, which framed the terrorist attacks as “a desperate act of self-defense.”

“I think it’s really important to understand where uprisings come from, even when we may disagree with tactics that are used,” Abdullah said.

Asked twice if she condemned the October 7 attacks, Abdullah declined to answer directly.

“I find it really troubling that we are constantly asked to condemn Hamas. I’m not a member of Hamas,” Abdullah said. “I find it even more troubling that an entire state has been built on the genocide of a people, and I think that we have to start with that first,”

West also defended Hamas’ actions by calling the October 7 attacks a “counterterrorist response.”

“I don’t believe in killing an innocent anybody,” the independent presidential candidate said. “But you don’t start with those voices without coming to terms with the vicious killings and occupations that’s been going on for 75 years, and then you get a counterterrorist response to that.”

Asked to clarify if he was referring to the October 7 attacks as a “counterterrorist response,” West said, “Oh, absolutely.”

The remarks by West and Abdullah come as the independent ticket actively courts support from Muslim Americans and progressives around the country amid dissatisfaction and anger at President Joe Biden’s response to the Israel-Hamas war.

West has made the conflict in Gaza a central campaign issue, repeatedly calling for a permanent ceasefire and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Abdullah expressed strong pro-Palestinian views prior to joining the campaign in connection with her work at Black Lives Matter Grassroots. A Muslim who was raised Baptist, Abdullah said on “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Wednesday – when West introduced her as his running mate – that her religious background ties into the core themes of the West campaign.

“People of faith all want the same thing. We want peace, we want truth, we want love, and we want justice,” she said.

Pressed Thursday night by Phillip on whether Hamas should release hostages taken from Israel in exchange for a ceasefire – echoing the ceasefire deal proposed by the US – West instead put the onus on Israel to withdraw its military operation and end Palestinian occupation.

“The IDF is not gonna cease fire just for releasing. They themselves have to stop,” West said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. “The Palestinian lives that are being lost, we’ve got to start there.”

“The IDF has engaged in terrorizing the Palestinians, and terrorizing anybody is wrong, but the terrorism that they are doing, it reaches the point of the crime of genocide. So, for me, they have to stop,” he said.

West also said that while Hamas has some “responsibility” for the war in causing harm to civilians, “Hamas is not the culprit, it’s the IDF, and they’re terrorizing.”

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